Papadopoulos Disputes Key Claim in Mueller Report

By Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.
April 22, 2019 Updated: April 27, 2019

News Analysis

Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos disputed a key claim in the final report by special counsel Robert Mueller about the origin of the FBI probe into Trump-Russia connections in 2016.

The report claims Papadopoulos talked to a certain foreign official four days earlier than he says he did—a seemingly small discrepancy that has significant implications and appears to be an effort to boost the credibility of the official story, which has been buckling under the weight of contradicting evidence.

As the official story goes, Papadopoulos was invited to meet Alexander Downer, Australia’s ambassador to London, in an upscale London bar in May 2016.

“During a night of heavy drinking,” as The New York Times put it in a December 2017 story based on information leaked by “four current and former American and foreign officials,” Papadopoulos “opened up” to Downer “about his contacts with the Russians.”

“Papadopoulos had suggested to a representative of that foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” the Mueller report says.

If true, it would suggest that Russians told the campaign well in advance of the emails allegedly hacked by Russians from the Democratic National Committee, which were released by Wikileaks later that year, starting July 22.

The “foreign government,” presumably Australia, “conveyed this information to the U.S. government on July 26, 2016,” the report states.

And it was this information that “prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its [election] interference activities,” the report reads.

Important Date

The report makes clear that Papadopoulos was prone to exaggerating his claims and that what “indications” there were about any “damaging” information, it was him personally who had received them. There’s no evidence he told other officials in the campaign.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report said.

The report, however, makes a crucial claim: Papadopoulos spoke to the “representative of a foreign government” on May 6, 2016.

This is false, according to Papadopoulos, who spoke to The Epoch Times via direct message on Twitter.

Papadopoulos acknowledged he received information about Russians having “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” He told the FBI that a Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud told him this in London on April 26, 2016. Papadopoulos was later sentenced to two weeks in prison for downplaying his contacts with Mifsud when questioned by the FBI.

George Papadopoulos visits "The Story With Martha MacCallum" at Fox News Studios in New York
George Papadopoulos visits “The Story With Martha MacCallum” at Fox News Studios in New York City on March 26, 2019. (Noam Galai/Getty Images)

Papadopoulos denies a recollection of telling Downer the Mifsud story, but said if he ever did, it was on May 10, 2016. “I just looked through my records,” he said. “Yes, the Alexander downer [sic] meeting was on the 10th. Just double checked.”

The difference is important, because, on May 9, 2016, former Judge Andrew Napolitano aired a rumor on Fox News that “there’s a debate going on in the Kremlin” on whether they should release 20,000 Clinton emails the Russians allegedly hacked.

If the meeting took place on May 10, Papadopoulos could have, for all Downer knew, just been repeating what he heard on Fox News the night before. How could that be the reason for opening a counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign—one of the most sensitive operations in FBI’s history?

What Did Downer Say?

Still, according to the Mueller report, Downer said Papadopoulos suggested the Russian government indicated “that it could assist the [Trump] Campaign” through the release of damaging info on Clinton. Napolitano didn’t say that and there’s no indication Mifsud said it either. So where does this claim come from? It’s not clear.

Downer spoke publicly in some detail about the talk with Papadopoulos.

“During that conversation, he mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” he told The Australian in a 2018 interview, also clarifying, “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.”

The problem is, Downer didn’t suggest the release of the information was supposed to have anything to do with the Trump campaign.

“By the way, nothing he said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton,” he said. “It was just that this guy clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton—but whether Trump knew or not? He didn’t say Trump knew or that Trump was in any way involved in this. He said it was about Russians and Hillary Clinton; it wasn’t about Trump.”

Papadopoulos confirmed there was no way he spoke about any “damaging” info on Clinton with any “representative of a foreign government” on May 6. Not Downer, nor any other. The meeting with Downer was organized by Downer’s then-counselor, Erika Thompson, and the communications with her did take place on or around May 6. But it was done via email, Papadopoulos said. If he “suggested” anything to her then, she would have had a record of it. There’s no indication she provided any such record to the FBI.

The Special Counsel’s Office had “no comment beyond the report,” its spokesman Peter Carr said via email.

So what basis did the FBI have to start investigating the Trump campaign? Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who spearheaded the congressional inquiry into the origin of the FBI probe, indicated that the Obama administration needed to legitimize its spying on the Trump campaign.

“In late 2015, early 2016, spying began on the Trump campaign,” he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on April 11.

“That information leaked; that led to what they consider to be ‘legal spying’ that began, that they’ve acknowledged that they’d started doing, at the end of July.”

Papadopoulos said the whole escapade from Mifsud to Downer and more “was a complete set up from the beginning.” Far from a jovial night of drinking, he described the meeting with Downer as tense. The ambassador appeared nervous and Papadopoulos suspected Downer was recording him with his phone.

Joseph Mifsud

As far as Mifsud goes, the Mueller report highlights his Russian contacts. One was Ivan Timofeev, member of the Russian International Affairs Council and a PR man of sorts in the academic world for the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry. Another was “a one-time employee of the [Internet Research Agency], the entity that carried out the Russian social media campaign.” The name of the person is redacted, but from the context of the paragraph, it seems Mifsud discussed in January and February 2016 to potentially meet that person in Russia, though the investigation found no evidence that the meeting took place.

As The Epoch Times previously reported, Mifsud’s contacts in Russia were shallow compared to his extensive ties to western politicians, intelligence officials, and national security officials through the Link Campus University in Rome, where he lectured and also acted as a recruiter of foreign students. The university was frequented by U.S. and European defense, law enforcement, and intelligence officials—both current and former.

Italian Defense Minister Elisabetta Trenta has been the director of “Special Projects” at Link since 2015, her LinkedIn profile says. Also, according to her 2018 profile by the Italian ANSA press agency, she was the deputy director of the Master in Intelligence and Security course at Link. Emanuela Del Re, Italian deputy minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, lectured at Link in 2015 and 2016 (pdf). Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio spoke at Link in February 2018.

When interviewed by the FBI on Feb. 10, 2017, “Mifsud denied that he had advance knowledge that Russia was in possession of emails damaging to candidate Clinton, stating that he and Papadopoulos had discussed cybersecurity and hacking as a larger issue and that Papadopoulos must have misunderstood their conversation,” the Mueller report says.

Mifsud also “falsely stated” that he had not seen Papadopoulos since March 24, 2016, the report says.

Yet there’s no sign the FBI tried to reinterview Mifsud or charge him with lying, as it did with Papadopoulos.

After his name was outed in media in 2017, Mifsud disappeared. According to an April 18 report by Italian list Il Foglio, Mifsud was tucked away until May 2018 in a nice apartment in Rome. The rent was paid by Link International srl, a company responsible for finding international students for the university, the paper was told by Vanna Fadini, president of the company that runs Link Campus and also administrator of the Link International srl, of which Link Campus owns 55 percent and Mifsud himself owns 35 percent, the article says.

It’s not clear where Mifsud has been since May 2018.

Update: The article has been updated with a response form the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the response from the spokesman for the Special Counsel’s Office. The Epoch Times regrets the error.

Petr Svab
Petr Svab
Petr Svab is a reporter covering New York. Previously, he covered national topics including politics, economy, education, and law enforcement.